Afternoon Inquisition 9.18

I’m posting today’s Inquisition quickly from hurricane-ravaged Houston. Due to hurricany obligations, I have not had a lot of time for skeptical thought, so my question may not be the best ever. . . . . But it is in the form of a song.

So here we go:

The Inquisition (what a show)
The Inquisition (here we go)
We know you’re wishin’ that we’d go away.
But the Inquisition’s here and it’s here to-
Hey Skepchick readers, what do you say?

What branch of science is the most important today?

(Hey, you knew a salute to History of the World was coming eventually.)

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. I think there are a lot of amazing things going on in several branches of science, right now. I’d have to say that I’m most interested in fields of study related to longevity. Things like biochemistry, cellular biology, and nanotechnology. Is it important? Well, they’re all important, and the reality is we won’t know what’s most important until we understand all the implications of what is discovered.

  2. Applied Bonerology

    OK. Now that my Hollywood Squares joke answer is out of the way… I’ll have to say either the sorts of physics being done in the LHC, or neuroscience. Or maybe medical science involving stem cells.

    I guess it really depends on what you think the goal of science and research should be…

  3. Excellent question. If questions determine one’s focus, this question focuses us on the diversity of science, which is an excellent thing to consider.

    Craig Venter’s work (let’s call it “bioengineering”) is the most fundamentally game-changing.

    Energy Technologies–especially fusion–(call it “applied particle physics”) are the most important in terms of long-term value to society.

    Cancer research (say, “Cell biology”) is something that is way behind, and will have the most profound effect on health.

    Applied economics would have an even bigger impact on even more people.

    But for my money? Neuropsychology.

    The fact that we haven’t even begun to understand ourselves is the biggest imaginable crime humanity is committing.

    …That said: the question is flawed. All branches of science must receive equal focus for any of them to be of any use.

    Good luck in Texas. As you neighbor (NM), I wish you the best.

    Oh, Shit! saying “good luck” is bad etiquette among skeptics, isn’t it? Sorry about that!

  4. JRice just said something fundamental…but I’m damned if I can figure out where it leads us…

  5. Well, it won’t be one branch of science, it will be many, all with the goal of creating new energy sources to replace the waning supply of carbon based fuels.

    This will include genetics – think Craig Ventor and his quest to synthesize biofuels, physics to build cleaner 3rd generation nuclear reactors, chemistry to create new enzymes to catalyze organic materials, more efficient batteries and more efficient photo voltaic cells. Even astrophysics to build reflective mirrors in space.

  6. @Steve:

    I thought it went:
    Psychologists think they’re biologists
    Biologists think they’re Biochemists
    Biochemists think they’re chemists
    Chemists think they’re physicists
    Physicists think they’re mathematicians
    Mathematicians think they’re philosophers
    And philosophers think they’re gods

    I am a Hedge (but I think I’m a shrub)

  7. “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.”

    Ernest Rutherford, father of Nuclear Physics

    @Steve: Math is not a science. It is Applied Philosophy. ;)

  8. As someone hinted at earlier, I don’t think the question can be answered. Aside from not defining how one rates “important”, the beauty of scientific research is that we don’t know what we’ll stumble on. Nor can we predict what spin offs will come from various avenues of inquiry.

    One could argue that research into sustainable energy solutions is vital, but we can’t say for certain what line of inquiry will lead to currently unforseen solutions. Brilliant insight could come out of left-field.

    Also, the most interesting problems (I think) are not constrained to a branch of science, but through multidisciplinary efforts. For example, the study of life’s origins now encompasses biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology, and paleontology (and probably a few more I’m forgetting).

    That being said, astrophysics is *clearly* the most important only because that is what I’m getting my Ph.D. in and you’ll have to take my grant money from my *cold dead hands*!!!

  9. @CosmicThespian: With respect to participating the discussions that tend to occur on this website, IMO astrophysics is probably the most important to me (not to dis the various areas of biology) … And I’m a lawyer, so I am not biased with respect to the sciences – just uninformed.

    That said, the one theme I liked in ‘Contact’ was the idea/reality of mathematics being the universal cosmic language.

  10. @QuestionAuthority: NEVER!
    “Our chief weapon is surprise, surprise and fear are our TWO chief weapons, fear and surprise and ruthless efficiency…THREE chief weapons are Fear, Surprise, and Ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope, FOUR…”

    As for best branch of science, tough one, but I’m gonna go with Physics and Astronomy.

  11. @JRice: “! saying “good luck” is bad etiquette among skeptics, isn’t it? Sorry about that!”

    living in New Mexico is bad etiquette among skeptics. That hippie infested mecca of wu.

    But I agree with what yer sayin’.

  12. The development of the Oscillation Overthruster, we have to stop the Red Lectroids from Planet 10 from invading Earth Via the 8th dimension.

    Or Genetics, we really should learn more on how these Corporeal things work.

  13. @drockwood: Heh heh. Yes, it’s true, there is a–shall we say–scarcity of skepticism here.

    It’s one of those “so open-minded, one’s brain falls out” kind of environments.

    But, of the places I’ve been, I still like it most. California is–for the most part–completely stuck in its ways, and Massachusetts is, well, alternatively cold or buggy.

    And both of them were all about the Jesus.

    At least here in NM, we’re heathen hippie woo-mongers.

  14. I’ve changed my mind.

    The most important branch of science today is.

    The scientific method.

    Taught clearly, coherently and consistently, over and over again to every student in America.

  15. @TomDG: I LOVE the tag line that pops up when you put your cursor over that particular xkcd comic!

    So true!

    I am now off to dinner with my (also) physicist wife to celebrate our 17th anniversary. When we get home, we may even do some “physics” (but definitely not “math”!). Not that I have anything against “math”!

  16. @TomDG:

    I don’t want to be a negative nancy, but I’m pretty sure variations on this joke are much older than that particular comic.

    I think I heard it it before the internet was even a twinkle in Tipper’s eye.

    I am a Hedge

  17. Applied science or pure science?

    Applied science? I’m biased: medicine. My passion within medicine? Pathophysiology of diabetes ,precursors of diabetes such as obesity, and concommitant pathology such as lipidemia, hypertension and endothelial disease.

    Pure science? Come on … it’s no contest, though I can’t due the math … it’s physics!

  18. Astrophysics, because it employs me, and if I weren’t employed, I might just have to go on a murderous rampage for something to do. Well, at least that’s true if you believe what certain people say about an atheist’s basis for morality.

  19. hanlincoh: “Peasants? Peasants!?! Help, I’m being exploited! D’ya see him exploiting me?!? <thwack!) Oh, yes, now we see the violence inherent in the system!”

    Now, where was I?

  20. Definately Biochemistry. More specifically the elimination of crab lice. Hey, when you’re scratching your crotch to the point of madness with no relief in sight and the little buggers have developed an immunity to all those “special” shampoos you get at the pharmacy which you carry out under your coat, you’ll agree with me then my friends…oh yes, you will.
    Oh and in case you were wondering, I have NO personal experience with this. I really don’t. Stop shaking your head damnit. :)

  21. @CosmicThespian:

    Quick comment because I have very limited Internet time in the “no power from Ike” zone, but this is exactly the kind of reasoned response we like in the Afternoon Inquisition comments.

    The answers to the questions may be obvious, but they are more about the thought process and the discussion than who is the first in the class to shout out the right answer.

    Good job all.

    And I’m going to have to go dark again now. See ya.

  22. So, since the most reliable way to determine if something is science is by all or part of the word ‘science’ in the title… I’m going with scientology.

    And I can fly.

  23. The most important aspect of science today is getting the masses to understand it. I suppose that would be the PR branch of science.

  24. @Chupacabras:

    whoa! that’s like almost 10,000 years in the future. are you from the future?

    A time-traveling chupacabra from the future… whatever branch of science got that to happen is pretty cool (even if possibly irrelevant and unimportant)

  25. @Chupacabras: No, I certainly did not. Ah, hell, I can’t figure out a way to make a good Monty Python joke out of this one, could we get someone wittier than I to help out here? Please?

  26. @QuestionAuthority: You totally screwed up that quote! It’s

    Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I’m being repressed!
    Bloody peasant!
    Oh, what a give-away. Did you hear that? Did you hear that, eh? That’s what I’m on about. Did you see him repressing me? You saw it, didn’t you?

    and now for something completely different:

    Peering into the howling void that’s recently opened up in my toaster oven. Warranty doesn’t cover shit like that, so I’m just screwed.

    From Johnny_C’s twitter feed

  27. @Im a Hedge:

    Psychologists think they’re biologists
    Biologists think they’re Biochemists
    Biochemists think they’re chemists

    I thought it was…

    Dont look at anything in the physics lab
    Dont taste anything in the chemistry lab
    Dont smell anything in the biology lab
    Dont touch anything in the medical lab
    And most importantly….
    Dont listen to anything in the philosophy department

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